Vinorelbine is the generic name of a vinca alkaloid drug used in chemotherapy. It is mainly used in the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancers, but has also been used to treat breast cancers and other malignancies. Vinorelbine is often marketed under the trade name Navelbine. It is partly synthetic in its composition and also contains naturally occurring compounds extracted from the periwinkle plant. Recently vinorelbine has been used in the treatment of mesothelioma. Studies have been conducted that show a degree of effectiveness in reducing the number of cancerous cells present in the pleural lining of the lungs.
Mesothelioma is a cancerous condition caused by long-term exposure to and inhalation of asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate compound that is mined from below ground and used as an insulator and fire retardant. Because it is inexpensive to process in large quantities, asbestos was for over a century used to wrap steam pipes, mixed with other components and made into tiles, ceiling panels, coatings for wires, and even woven into protective clothing for workers who spent time around extreme temperatures. Often the tiny asbestos fibers would break loose, become airborne and be inhaled by humans. Once inhaled, the fibers can remain dormant for many years and then begin to act as a carcinogen, causing the development and growth of cancer cells. Most of the asbestos once used in industrial factories and manufacturing plants has been removed, however many former employees of these companies may still show symptoms of mesothelioma today.
The active ingredients in vinorelbine affect cancer cells while they are dividing. At this time the interaction of the drug and cellular tissue slows or even inhibits cell division, eventually leading to cell death. Cancer cells divide more often than other cells in the body, which is the main reason for the effectiveness of vinorelbine. However, this drug can have an effect on other cell types. Research has shown that types of cells capable of living for a long time before dividing are less likely to have their pattern disrupted by vinorelbine, but others, especially white blood cells, may be reduced in number while taking this medication.
Vinorelbine is not a cure for mesothelioma; however, it can inhibit the division of cancerous cells, sometimes leading to cancerous cell death. Vinorelbine is often used in combination with other chemotherapy drugs in some cancer patients. This drug was approved for treatment use in 1994 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.